Don't mention it: Turkmenistan bans use of word 'coronavirus'

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, center, greets journalists after casting his ballot at a polling station in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. (AP Photo)

The ex-Soviet nation of Turkmenistan has banned the media from using the word "coronavirus," an international media freedom watchdog said.

Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday the word also has been removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces.

The gas-rich Central Asian nation that neighbors Iran so far has reported no cases of the new coronavirus. Iran has reported more than 44,000 cases.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said people wearing face masks or talking about the coronavirus are liable to be arrested by plainclothes police. Ranked last in the group's 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan is one of the world's most closed countries.

Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has ruled the country since 2006 through an all-encompassing personality cult that styles him as Turkmenistan's "arkadaq," or protector.

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